Alice Stevenson: Ways to See Great Britain

06/30/17

I am so excited today to share with you an interview with Alice Stevenson. Alice is one of the most talented, dedicated, curious illustrators I know. I first met Alice several years ago when she came to stay in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Hailing from London in the UK (where she has lived most of her life), she has just published a new book all about her home country called Ways to See Great Britain. The book is part visual adventure through her gorgeous country, and part Alice’s own personal exploration of parts unknown. That’s right, Alice traversed her country over the course of two years, and most of it for the first time, on public transportation and by foot, with the goal of getting to know the less common, less touristy parts of her country in more depth. And simultaneously she wrote and illustrated a book about it! Stunningly illustrated in Alice’s energetic, colorful style and written in Alice’s soothing voice, the book is both eye candy and inspiration for slowing down, looking at your surroundings and appreciating the unexpected. All the illustrations below are from this gorgeous new book.

And so without further ado, I present to you my  latest Interview with Someone I Admire — Alice Stevenson!

Lisa: Alice, tell us a little bit about your background, your story as an illustrator, and the kinds of things you work on as an illustrator.

Alice: I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and surface pattern for a varied range of clients since 2005 when I graduated from the University of Brighton. I’ve illustrated many books and book covers including Maya Angelou’s autobiographies for Random House US and Carol Ann Duffy’s Collected Poems for Children for Faber & Faber. I’ve also been commissioned by a host of different editorial, advertising and packaging clients including Kellogg’s, Waitrose and Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve always had a lively personal drawing and painting practice alongside my commissioned work.

Lisa: This is your second book? Before we launch into Ways to See Great Britain, tell us briefly about your first book.

Alice: Ways to Walk in London is collection of reflective writings about my wanders around my home city, combined with illustrations inspired by my journeys. It’s a celebration of surprising corners of London and those fleeting moments of beauty you find when exploring a city on foot. I was initially approached by my publisher to create this book as so much of my personal output as an illustrator and artist is about drawing in response to my surroundings.

Lisa: How did Ways to See Great Britain come to be as the follow up to Ways to Walk London?

Alice: I grew up in London, and there is always a sense here of being quite cut off from the rest of the country. I’d always been aware that there was so much of the UK I’d never seen even though I’ve travelled widely overseas. I was interested in writing a travel book, which investigated the process of travel and my own reaction to different journeys and locations, so travelling around Britain seemed like a logical progression.

Lisa: It’s amazing how many places all over Great Britain you traveled!! How long did you spend traveling to create the content in the book? How did you decide what to explore in each region?

Alice: Yes, I look back at the book now and wonder how I managed it all! I spent just under two years doing trips for the book, and it was incredible. I’ve been much more sedentary this year and I really miss all the travelling, in particular the long train journeys. When I started the book, I wanted to restrict my travels to “in between places”: outskirts of towns, places that were a mixture of industrial and rural for example. But this felt a bit restrictive as I started making plans so I kept this in mind but gave myself permission to go wherever took my fancy, even if they didn’t fit into this sort of category. Really it was a mixture of places I’d always wanted to visit and places recommended to me. It ended up being quite an organic process. I’d often let whatever journey I’d just been on inform my future travel plans. For example, I fell in love with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which inspired me to visit the town of Harlow which had been designed by the same architect Frederick Gibberd, hundreds of miles away in Essex.

Lisa: The art in the book, which is gorgeous, is obviously driven by your experience in each place, and yet, the illustrations are not literal. They are more figurative, patterned illustrations on each place. Talk about your process for creating the illustrations in the book.

Alice: Thank you :). What I seek to capture in my illustrations is a sense of what I found visually interesting and engaging about a place. To me, the visual memory of a place more closely resembles an abstract pattern than a straightforward “scene” because its a combination of details and atmosphere. I take photos and create sketches (if possible) on my travels for reference, I then use these as the basis for creating some initial drawings which eventually develop into final pieces. The process is very intuitive, I try not to overthink what I create.  I found with some chapters that I’d see the artwork quite clearly in my mind’s eye, and in others, I would have to draw and experiment for a while until it became clear what the final outcome would be.

Lisa: The book is explicitly not a travel guide. So talk about how you envision or hope people to use the book to explore Great Britain?

Alice: I would be delighted if people wanted to follow in my footsteps after reading my book and I hope that it gives people ideas for travels around the UK, but just as much I would love to inspire readers to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way wherever they go in the world. I also am a passionate advocate of armchair travel, so I like the idea of my book mentally transporting readers from wherever they are in the world to Liverpool in December, or the mud flats of North Norfolk even if they never actually use it in a practical way.
Lisa: Because you don’t drive a car, you walked or took public transport everywhere you visited and wrote about in the book. What was that experience like for you? Was it difficult to get to some regions or places you wanted to see without a car or did you manage to get people to drive you? How did you manage your expectations on your journey when you were at the mercy of your feet and other modes of transport that you didn’t have control over?
Alice: Having never driven, I’m fairly used to managing without a car. I’m honestly never happier than when I’m on a train, and I also really enjoy taking little local buses, they provide excellent people watching opportunities. On certain journeys I managed to rope long suffering friends and family into chauffeuring me around — for example, in Northern Ireland which would have been very tricky on public transport. On the whole I prefer travelling without a car as it limits your options in a good way, as I think too much choice when travelling can be overwhelming. For example, when I was staying in Patterdale in The Lake District with my mum, we didn’t have a car and we spent our two days there just exploring the immediate footpaths around Lake Ullstwater, which were absolutely stunning. If we’d had a car we’d have probably spent the time driving around trying to see as many places as possible, which I find can be a bit draining and unrewarding. Plus if you’re not driving it means you can go to the pub!
Lisa: Was there a spot or region you visited for the first time that really blew your mind? If so, what was that and why?
Alice: I was very taken by Hull. It is often unfairly dismissed as being a bit of a rough place but I was delighted by it. It has the most amazing grand Victorian buildings, a fascinating maritime history and excellent pubs. People are extremely friendly there and I just felt it had one of the loveliest atmospheres of any city I’ve ever been too.
Lisa: Did you stumble on anything by chance that you hadn’t planned on that made it into the book?
Alice: Yes! On the grounds of Castle Crom near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, we discovered these astounding ancient yew trees that created an amazing arboreal palace world when you stepped under their outer canopy. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I wrote about this experience in the book and it is probably one of the best surprise discoveries I’ve ever maddwhilst travelling. I think it’s these moments that make travel worth doing.
Lisa: What are you working on now?
Alice: In terms of books: “Ways to See Great Britain” was such a mammoth undertaking so I’m allowing myself to take some time this year to regroup and work out what the next big writing project will be. Alongside working on illustration commissions I’m enjoying playing around with some personal art and writing projects and seeing how things develop.
Lisa: Where can people find you online?
You can find out about my books and look at my illustration portfolio at www.alicestevenson.com. Signed copies of my books and prints can be found on my online shop at alicestevo.bigcartel.com. You can follow me on Instagram,Twitter and Pinterest at @alicestevo and at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alicestevo/
Lisa: Thank you, Alice! And folks, you can purchase the book here, along with many other beautiful things by Alice!
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Bridget Watson Payne: Part Two

06/08/17

You may remember a few weeks ago, I posted the first part in my two-part interview with author, artist and editor extraordinaire, Bridget Watson Payne, about her recently released book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. If you haven’t seen that book yet or read that interview, head over here to take a look. The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up is one of my favorite books of the year.

Bridget’s second book, How Art Can Make You Happy, was also just released. And guess what? It’s also one of my favorite books of the year! Part of why I divided this interview with Bridget into two parts is because both of her recently published books are really, really entertaining, sensitive and, most importantly, useful.

So I’m back to interview Bridget a second time about How Art Can Make You Happy. To learn more about Bridget, how we know each other (she’s an important person in my life) and her first book, head over here to our first interview. Then come back to this post to read on.

Without further ado, I present to you: Bridget Watson Payne, back to talk about How Art Can Make You Happy.

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Lisa: This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I’m curious to hear in your own words — why a book about how art can make you happy?

Bridget: I found myself having so many conversations with people—friends, colleagues, at parties, over coffee—where, when the subject of art came up, folks would all of a sudden start to express so much guilt and anxiety. Maybe it’s because of my job title? Maybe you imagine that if you’re talking to someone whose job is “Senior Art Editor” that must mean that this person you’re talking to is super-duper knowledgeable about art, makes it out to every big art show and every cool obscure art show, and is looking down on you because of stuff you don’t know or stuff you didn’t go see. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I wanted to wave my arms and shout—no, no, no! Art shouldn’t make you feel crummy and guilty! Art should bring joy into your life! Art should make you happy! So then I realized maybe I should write a book about that.

Lisa: As someone who came to a profession as an artist later in life — and with no formal training or connections to the “mysterious art world,” I remember feeling completely terrified when I first started out that I would be found out for being a fraud and that there was some secret society who would certainly kick me out. I have my own theories, but why do you think we have gotten to this place as a society where we are so intimated by not just art but “the art world”?

Bridget: I think it’s kind of this cultural myth. I mean, yes, sure, there are a few snobby jerks out there who like to use their knowledge to shut others out or make them feel small. But for the most part, it’s a fiction. You can walk into a museum on the free day, or into an art gallery on any day, and look at the art there. No one is going to stop you. The art world isn’t actually shutting us out, we’re shutting ourselves out with this cultural story that says, oh, art’s not for normal people art’s only for fancy people. Nonsense! Art is for everyone. Art is for you and for me and for you and for you and for you. That’s not to say that the story isn’t a real and powerful thing in itself—it comes out of some pretty deep-seated societal issues we have around class and culture and intellect and education—and it’s not always easy to throw off that kind of cultural baggage. But we are right to work to try and do so.

Lisa: I also think our perceptions about art are changing because of the internet and because museums, in order to stay relevant, are making great efforts to make art accessible to everyone. Art in all of its forms is becoming more mainstream, and our conception of what is art is also broadening. Art is for everyone, and art can be anything. To be clear, some people (mostly inside “the art world”) find this shift offensive. Why does your book argue this is a good thing?

Bridget: I am 100% egalitarian when it comes to art. Everyone should be invited to the art party. If they’re not then, what? You’re making art some sort of rarefied insider-y thing on a mountain top and keeping this source of joy out of people’s grasp? That’s insane. I really have a hard time believing that we’re still having these conversations about what is and is not art in this day and age—but I know it’s true, we are. Every time I go to a museum show about the work of a fashion designer—which, let’s be clear, have been some of the best exhibitions out there in recent years!—I overhear all these conversations debating whether fashion is art and should it be shown in museums and blah blah blah. And I’m like, seriously? Are we still seriously having this debate in the year 2017? More art—a broader more inclusive definition of art—and art accessible to more people—is only ever a good thing. We would never say movies or music or books or ice cream or vegetables or pillows or bicycles are only for a few special people, so why on earth would we say that about art, this amazing huge source of inspiration, empathy, and joy?

Lisa: When I walk into a museum, despite the genre or period or artist, I am often overcome with emotion. I have been known to cry or to feel overwhelmed, and not in a negative or positive way. I am simply moved. Sometimes I find myself rushing through because the feelings are so intense. I’ve heard a handful of other people talk about this same experience. Why is this happening this happening to me?

Bridget: You are letting art do to you exactly what art does, if we let it. Art is a powerful engine of emotion. When I say art makes you “happy” I don’t mean happy like skipping around in a field of daisies eating bonbons, I mean happy on a deep and profound level. Happy like moved. Happy like awake. Some art is deeply unpleasant—it can shake you up, upset you, outrage you—but those strong emotions can also lead to this kind of deep happiness I’m talking about. If we really let art in, if we open our eyes and let it do it’s number on us, the natural result is feeling. Not every time, of course—some art works for some of us and not for others—that’s why learning to trust your own taste is so important, you have to find the art you like so you can find the art that moves you. Because feeling that feeling of feeling feels good.

Lisa: Why should people prioritize seeing and engaging with art (even if it is intimidating or even overwhelming at first?)

Bridget: I argue in my book that art wakes us up to three profound realities: the reality of the world, the reality of others, and the reality of ourselves. As humans, we tend to be blinkered to the wonder of the world around us—we have to be or we’d be overstimulated all the time. We tend to be self-centered and have a hard time really truly believing that other people are just as real as we are. We tend to get caught up in the mundane day-to-day and disconcert from our own capacity for deep feeling, thought, and pleasure. When we prioritize making time to engage with art, we are prioritizing being our best and our happiest selves. And sure that’s a payoff worth facing down intimidation or overwhelm for.

Lisa: There is a whole section in the book about looking at art without leaving your house. This is important for people who are curious but don’t live in an area with galleries or museums (of which there are vast swaths across the world). What are some of the things you suggest in the book about how those folks can engage with art?

Bridget: Yes. If we’re going to say art is for everyone (and we are!) then we have to get really clear about the fact that not everyone lives near museums and art galleries. Luckily, there are lots of ways that art can come to us. We can order affordable art online and hang it on the walls of our homes. We can pull those art books someone gave us as gifts off the bookshelf or coffee table and actually look through them, slowly and carefully. And then, biggest of all, there is the internet. Going online is your gateway to accessing an almost infinite amount of art. Try art blogs (a few of my favorites are The Jealous Curator and Booooooom), art websites (I adore Artsy.net), and the amazing thing nowadays is that more and more museums are digitizing their entire collections. You can actually see way more art on the website of the Met than you can if you actually go to New York now.

Lisa: When you can, though, why is it different or special or important to go look at art in person? What changes?

Bridget: There’s something magical about seeing art in person. In the same way that seeing a live performance is very different from watching a recording, there is something visceral and immediate about being in the same space with the actual physical object that the artist created with their own hands. Because, let’s not forget, art is a physical experience. You feel it in your body. And you see things in such a different way when you stand in front of them, in person. Not just that you see more details—the individual brush-strokes in a painting, for instance—though there is that; but you actually see the original in a different way than you see the reproduction. Take Impressionism, for example. We’ve all seen certain Impressionist masterpieces, Monet’s waterlilies, say, reproduced so many times—on posters and coffee mugs and mouse pads and in the dentist’s waiting room—that we can hardly see it any more at all. It’s become this boring accustomed decorative background that our eyes and brains tune out or gloss over. But when you’re lucky enough to see it in person, it hits you. The size of it, the scale, the brushwork—but beyond all that: the living magic of it. Suddenly you realize how insanely revolutionary it was, at a time when people wore top hats and corsets, to paint what things felt like instead of how they literally looked. The audacity of it! Wham!

Lisa: I have been a professional artist for ten years, and I am just getting comfortable talking about and having opinions about art for the first time in my life. Why is talking about and having opinions about art so intimidating for so many people? And how can we move on from that fear?

Bridget: Frankly, we’re afraid of looking stupid. We think people are going to judge us for our lack of knowledge, or for having “bad taste” or something. And, yes, overcoming those sorts of fears can be hard. But also? Overcoming those sorts of fears is the real and proper work of our lives as adult human beings. Worrying about what people will think of us holds us back in nearly every arena of human endeavor. And like most things, the way to get good at something—in this case talking about art—is to practice. Start out with someone you trust. I recommend finding a friend to go on art dates with—go to a museum or on a mural walk together and talk about what you see. What do you like? Dislike? Why? Once you get comfortable with your friend, move on to chatting with others. Art is a great topic of conversation for social situations—it gets you away from boring small talk and onto something really interesting. And a great way to get to know people is by finding out about the art they like (and you may discover some new artists this way as well). People worry that others may know way more than art than they do—but it’s usually not the case. The one thing others may have mastered is name-dropping. If you learn the names of your favorite artists then you, too, can drop names into the conversation and start to feel more and more competent and knowledgeable.

Lisa: What was your favorite part of writing How Art Can Make you Happy?

Bridget: It was so much fun to be a writer! Because I’m a book editor by profession, I’m so used to being on the other side of the editor/author relationship. It was awesome and exciting to get to take my editor hat off and just concentrate on writing the very best book I could. And I got to work with a great editor of my own—Christina Amini. I felt like the whole experience gave me a deeper appreciation both of what editors do and what authors do.

Lisa: In one line, describe one message you hope people hold with them after reading it.

Bridget: Art is magic, and it’s for everyone.

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Andy Miller // Creative Pep Talk!

05/31/17

   

One of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the past few years is being a guest on Andy Miller’s brilliant podcast, Creative Pep Talk (you can listen to my episode here). Andy is not only a fantastic podcaster, interviewer, community builder and pep-talk giver, he is also a phenomenal illustrator with a distinctive style that is so delicious I want to eat it. Andy now has a book out — also called Creative PepTalk — and I talked to Andy recently about this amazing new book, what’s behind it, and why it is we all need a pep talk now and again. The book is filled with “pep talks” from 50 different artists (including me, see my spread below, thank you Andy!). It’s colorful, bold, unpretentious and inspiring.

And so, without further ado, I introduce to you Andy J. Miller, this week’s Interview with Someone I Admire!

Lisa: Andy, before we launch into a discussion on this fantastic book, tell us a little bit about you. Who are you? What do you do?

Andy: First of all, SO THRILLED to do this, I just love and support everything you do and have done for the creative world, so I just want to say THANK YOU and thank you for being in this book! You were at the top of my contributor wish list!

Lisa: Oh, thank you, Andy. That means the world to me!

Andy: A little about me: most people know me by Andy J. Pizza these days, and I’m an illustrator who works with clients like Nickelodeon, Google and Converse. I’m also a podcaster, and my podcast Creative Pep Talk exists to help people make a good living, making great creative work.

I’m deeply passionate about sharing the breakthroughs I’m having in my creative career in hopes that it might enable a breakthrough for someone else.

Lisa: How did you get the idea for this book? Why Pep Talks for creatives? Did anything particular inspire the book?

Andy: I can’t remember exactly what sparked this idea but I’ve always loved a good collection / anthology. I kept seeing all this beautifully lettered creative wisdom and realized that it would kind of work as a double whammy as an anthology. On the one hand, it’s just a collection of phenomenal lettering and on the other hand it’s jam packed with the wisdom of a creative self help book of sorts.

I think a lot about why I’m so attracted to the idea of a pep talk. Here’s what I’ve realized: I’m just doing for others what I’d like done for me. Ironically, this pep talker requires LOTS OF PEP TALKS to keep going. A good word of affirmation or fresh perspective from a friend or mentor can keep me going for weeks!

Lisa: Haha, I am right there with you. Sometimes I say to my wife at dinner: I NEED A PEP TALK, PLEASE! There is such a myriad of terrific advice in the book. And so  I found myself saying, “YES!” and “YES!” and “I so needed to hear that today!” when I read it. I think sometimes people think those of us who have been working for years and are the ones dispensing the advice in the book somehow don’t experience insecurity or doubt or challenge. But we do! So this book really is for everyone. What is some of your favorite advice in the book?

 

Andy: I keep going back to Jon Burgerman’s “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Different.” Creative people get so caught up with the surface level metrics like how perfectly something is designed or how technically perfect something is. In my opinion, it’s more advantageous to get out of those races and find your own lane completely. Jon perfectly sums this up with his piece.

Jen Mussari’s page is another I keep returning to. She says “Make Friends, Not Contacts.” I am a MASSIVE believer that often in the long run, nice guys actually finish first. Those who scheme and cut corners might be quicker off the starting blocks, but their shortcuts catch up with them. Jen’s phrase reminds me that getting ahead doesn’t mean using people, and it’s possible to succeed and be a decent person at the same time.

Lastly, I’ll say Andrew Neyer’s “Stop Making Cents”. Andrew is a close friend of mine, and along the way we’ve both been very supportive of one another. We’ve always encouraged each other to charge fair rates and never to sell ourselves short.  I was so thrilled to share this piece of his with the world.

Lisa: There are so many fantastic artists and designers in the book. How did you begin to think about and select all the people in the book?

Andy: The number one criteria for this book was creative wisdom. I genuinely started with a list of people who had made an massive impact on me and had illustrated some of their wisdom visually.   Many of these folks profoundly changed my perspective and in turn my creative career with their work, their writing and their talks.

Lisa: One of the things I love about the book is the diversity of pep-talks, but also the fact that in some ways you can distill most of them down to a few key points: 1) believe in yourself (and your ideas), 2) don’t give up and 3) take risks. Your own advice in the book is about our infiniteness and potentiality when we believe in ourselves and in the power of our ideas. Say more about how that idea has played out in your own experience.

Andy: Looking back it’s very clear to me: this whole life is first and foremost a mind game with ourselves. Essentially, I’ve spent the past 9 years trying to find the right perspective or mental breakthrough that allowed me to trick myself into making progress. I am convinced that we are all infinitely more capable than we could ever imagine, and we can rise to this potential if we can just find the tricks and tips to get out of our own way.

For instance, from age 15 – 21, I was in a cycle of self destructive tendencies. They kept my self esteem low and convinced me that I was doomed to a live a life of defeat and failure. In that time frame I made some friends that pulled me out of this. When these people I respected and admired saw me as an equal, it changed the way I saw myself. This helped me break free of these cycles.

I see it in my creative career too. Every so often someone I look up to or admire or see as an ‘untouchable’ will reach out and encourage me. It always increases my self worth and belief in my own potential. For many of us we had teachers that did this for us, but I think many of us need this kind of mentorship throughout our entire lives! In short: seek these people out!

Lisa: What do you hope people who read your book get out of it? What do you hope they walk away with?

Andy: I hope at the very least they come away with some hope for the future of their creative work and that this hope helps them to make progress. On a deeper level, I secretly hope that this book will act as a kind of mentor in the form of a hardback book! I hope that its wisdom comes to them in the exact right moments to act as a catalyst for real breakthrough.

 Lisa: What is next for you? What are you working on now? (Here just feel free to share anything fun or exciting that you are working on!)

Andy: I don’t think I can say much about it at this point, but I’m working on a book that I write and illustrate that is very in line with the stuff I talk about on the podcast. So stay tuned for that!

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Andy: www.andyj.pizza instagram: @andyjpizza and twitter: @andyjpizza

Thank you Lisa!! This was amazing. Thank you so much for everything you do for the creative community!!! 😀

Lisa: Buy the book here or wherever books are sold!

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Sam Kalda: Of Cats and Men

05/24/17

If you have been following my blog for the last few years, you know that I do interviews periodically with people I admire — mostly fellow artists and writers. A couple of years ago, I discovered the work of illustrator Sam Kalda. Sam came to a book signing for my book Art Inc in Brooklyn back in 2014, and introduced himself to me after the signing. I looked him up the next day, fell in love with his work immediately and asked him for an interview. You can read that original 2015 interview with Sam here to get to know his story.

Recently, Sam, whose career has continued to grow over the past couple of years, published his first book, Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen. I love this book so much (and I am sure you will too) that I decided to have Sam back to chat with him again. Welcome back to Sam Kalda!

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Lisa: Sam, I absolutely love this book! Tell us about how the book came to be?

Sam: Thank you! As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to draw and loved cats. I began the book while in my first year of the MFA in illustration program at FIT. In college, I came across photos of Marlon Brando and Jean Cocteau with their cats. In these gorgeous black and white photos, cats seemed to unite these two very different fellows. They were the first members of this rag tag gentleman’s club that evolved into Of Cats and Men.

Lisa: Demystify the CAT MAN for us. How are Cat Men different from Cat Ladies (or are they?). What are the defining characteristics of Cat Men?

Sam: The book’s introduction serves as a kind of “Catman” manifesto (Catmanifesto?) that’s playful rebuttal of the bizarre way we gender animals and of the cruel “crazy cat lady” stereotype. The way I like to think of it, Catmen are enlightened fellows standing alongside their cat-loving sisters as “crazy cat men.”

Lisa: When I read the book (and part of what I love about it), I couldn’t help but think about what your research phase must have looked like. How does one go about finding out which men from history were Cat Men? And then how did you manage to learn so much about their cats and life with cats? It seems so obscure!

Sam: I had the benefit of time in accumulating these characters—an early version of the book is about four to five years old. The project was always in the background, so I could be a bit of a magpie and pick up ideas here and there. I love to read and do research, and collected books about cats in art history, literature, etc.

In terms of finding the subjects, the writers were probably the easiest to find as they tend to leave an extensive paper trail of their thoughts. I discovered Balthus’ cats at a show at the Met. I love Murakami novels and anyone who’s read Murakami know’s he loves cats—especially cats that can talk to humans. I had classmates and later fans of the project send me suggestions of people they came across while reading, or while surfing the web. In fact, George Balanchine was recommended by a friend in an Instagram message. From there, I just worked one by one to unearth interesting stories and anecdotes to really confirm their Cat Man “credentials.”

Lisa: Oh, what would we do without the internet! It’s a virtual treasure trove. Who did you discover in your research that surprised you the most?

Sam: I’m not sure surprised is the right word, but I was absolutely delighted by some real gems discovered in the research phase. For instance, while reading up on Maurice Ravel, I came across a biography stating that he (Ravel) was one of the first men in Paris to wear pastels. Amazing. Another favorite anecdote about the painter Balthus didn’t make it into the book. According to one writer, Balthus was known to refer to himself as “The Thirteenth King of Cats.” Balthus came to the number thirteen because the capillaries in one of his eyes vaguely resembled the number 13. Research can occasionally be dull, but I live for those eccentric tidbits.

Lisa:  I love the section in the end about robots and cats, because it begs the question: what is the future of cat men? And what role has the internet played in making us all cat people again? How do cats make us all — even robots — more human?

Sam: Originally, I envisioned the narrative voice in Of Cats and Men to be reminiscent of Werner Herzog at his most “out there.” While that changed slightly, my inner Herzog gave me permission to go a little Sci-Fi in the conclusion.  I’m little prone to Luddite paranoia and certainly had fun camping that up.

You’re very right to say that basically everyone is now a cat person because of the internet. But our everyday interactions are so mediated by devices. We are very uncomfortable with being present and unoccupied. I think spending time with cats—animals in general—is something that is fundamentally good for us. It keeps us present and strengthens our reserves of empathy. Ergo, cats make us more human. Art can do that too, but *most* art unfortunately is not covered in fur.

  

Lisa: If you could spend a day with any one of the men (and his cats) profiled in your book, who would you choose and why?

Sam: Probably Edward Gorey. Maybe go antiquing and browse some used bookstores around Cape Cod? Talk about the virtues of fog? Sounds joyous.

{Sam and his cat, Sister}

Lisa: Tell us about your cat! What is her name, how old is she and what is she like?

Sam: Her name is Sister. She’s a 10 year old black and white long hair and looks like a nun wearing a habit. I think that’s my Catholic school kid coming out. She was born in a boiler room in Brooklyn and now lives with her two dads in a small, well-curated apartment. Like all house cats, she’s a rags to riches story.

  

Lisa: I love it! Sister is very lucky. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and for making this book! It’s a gift (And I’ll literally be gifting it to many cat men in my life!). You can get it here and wherever books are sold.

Sam: Thank you, Lisa!

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Bridget Watson Payne: Part One

05/16/17

Hello, friends! Today I am posting the first of two interviews with someone who I not only admire enormously, but someone who is very near and dear to me, both professionally and personally: Bridget Watson Payne. Bridget is not only an amazing writer and artist (more on that in a second), but also my longtime editor at Chronicle Books. I have worked with Bridget on SEVEN books (five of my own, two that I illustrated for other writers) — all over the past six years. We’ve become good friends in that time, and Bridget has been a steadfast champion of my ideas (even my weird ones). Working with her has literally changed and expanded my career path (and basically my life) in ways that I cannot even begin to enumerate. And I won’t, because this interview is not about me, it’s about Bridget and her recent book: The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, which she wrote (and which was illustrated by a colleague at Chronicle).

While Bridget’s main job is helping other people make beautiful, interesting books as Senior Art Editor, she is someone who has never neglected her own creative spirit. This is part of why I love working with Bridget — she intimately understands the creative process, and also what it means to make stuff and put it into the world, which makes her enormously sensitive and humble. You can view Bridget’s super cool paintings of mostly ordinary objects on her Instagram feed under the hashtag #bwppaints.

Bridget is also a writer. Today’s post is dedicated to Bridget’s first book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, which is one of my favorite books of the year. Taking advantage of being an adult is all about understanding basic things — some that we don’t even know we don’t know (but Bridget breaks them down for us), and some of them are not secret, but that we just forget sometimes (even in my case, at 49). Rather than being preachy, the book is written with humility and humor. And it’s a great gift for anyone going through a big transition in their teens or 20’s. I’ve included some great spreads below so you can get a flavor for it.

I’ll also be back in a few weeks with Part Two of my interview with Bridget, in which we discuss the second book she’s published recently. Stay tuned for that.

And so it is my great pleasure to introduce Bridget Watson Payne, in my latest Interview with Someone I Admire!

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Lisa: When I was a little girl, my mom had a jar of candy that she kept up high in a cupboard in the kitchen. Every time she ate some, my siblings and I would whine – because we wanted some too. She used to say very emphatically: “When you are a grown up, you can eat as much candy as you want.” In other words, no, you can’t have any, it’s MINE, but your day will come. I remember thinking that while that seemed like becoming a grown up would take FOREVER, it also seemed like the ultimate freedom. When I read The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, I felt like one of the overriding messages of the book is: while some parts of being an adult are tedious and painful (like navigating relationships), ultimately, you get to eat as much candy as you want. In other words, you make the rules about how you live your life. Talk about when you began to make this realization.

Bridget: That’s exactly it! And, you know, it’s funny—I actually know exactly the minute I started to make that realization for myself: it was a few weeks after my twenty-seventh birthday. I was meeting some friends after work at a bar, and I was early, and it was crowded, and the only place to sit was this big seating area with a big sofa and several chairs. It was the perfect place for me and my friends to hang out — but they weren’t going to be there for at least another twenty minutes. And I questioned, can I do this? Can I sit here all by myself and hold down the fort until everyone else gets here? Will people glare at me? Can I get away with this? And that’s when it happened. I answered myself, in my mind, loud and clear: “I’m twenty-seven years old!” I thought, “I can do whatever I want!” I sat down and held the spot and no one cared in the least. That’s when I saw it for the first time: being a grown-up means making your own rules — you decide what you can and can’t do, you decide how much space you’re going to take up in the world.

Lisa: Tell us more about The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. How did this book come to be?

Bridget: I was waiting for kind of a long time on a crowded train platform with my friend Wynn who’s a fellow book editor at Chronicle. Finally the train pulled up and everyone started to squash onto it, even though there was another train directly behind that first one. And we turned to each other we were like, obviously we should wait two minutes and take the second less-crowded train! And then I said, oh, I should remember that, that’s perfect for my list of tips for being a grown-up! And he asked me to tell him more about this list, so I started to describe how I’d been collecting these kinds of tidbits for over a decade, and someday when I was elderly and had hundreds and hundreds of them I would try and put them into a book. And he suggested that, hmm, perhaps it ought to be a book a little sooner than that. And he went on to be my editor!

Lisa: I know because I’ve talked to you about the book that you’d been keeping a list of “adult tips” for a long time. But once you started writing it, did you come up with more? What was the process like of narrowing down to the right amount of tips for the book and getting the right balance all the flavors?

Bridget: Yes. Initially when I first started collecting them I was in my early-to-mid-twenties and was learning my way around the kitchen — so a lot of them had to do with cooking. Things like: “turn the bottle not the cork” (that’s how you open a bottle of champagne), “the meat stops sticking when it’s done” (a key lesson in patience), and “you don’t need a garlic press” (I’m a big believer in a less-is-more approach to utensils). But as time went on, and then as the book started to evolve, I realized I wanted to cover a lot more kinds of things — tips about socializing and relationships, tips about work and money, home stuff, fashion stuff — I wanted the book to run gamut of different parts of life we encounter as adults. And whereas I’d originally pictured a very long list of hundreds of tips, each tip just maybe five or ten words long, I pretty quickly realized (with my editor’s help!) that each tip should actually be a whole spread, should have a bit of longer text explaining it, and so we wouldn’t need nearly as many of them as I’d first thought. Because it turns out, I might say “turn the bottle not the cork” and think that’s totally self-explanatory, but other people who aren’t inside  my head aren’t going to know that’s about champagne—they’re going to be all “what bottle?” “what cork?”

Lisa: Speaking of different flavors, some of the tips in the book are sort of everyday, trivial things like secrets of opening a bottle of champagne or properly using a tin foil dispenser. But other things are actually about big and more weighty topics like setting boundaries in relationships, valuing yourself as a lovable person, the importance of expressing your feelings, and accepting that you can’t change your parents. How did you approach writing the more in-depth parts of the book so that they weren’t out of balance with the simple kitchen tips?

Bridget: It was a little tricky. I definitely had a few of those same “can I get away with this?” moments! But I just applied my grown-up skills and told myself “I can do what I want!” And what I wanted to do was really to include that mix of simple practical things and bigger deeper things—because to my mind those are two of the important things, and ultimately the really fun things, about being a grown-up: you get to master your environment in little practical ways and you also get to set up your emotional and interpersonal life in a way that works for you. In terms of writing, I did want the book to have a coherent voice—I wanted it to all feel like the advice you might get from an older sister or friend who not so long ago was struggling with the exact same things you’re struggling with and who is here to tell you that your adult life is going to be rad, that you get to do what you want, that you deserve to be happy.

Lisa: Tell us a little bit about your trajectory as a writer. You are currently Senior Editor for Art Books at Chronicle. Have you always wanted to write your own books? Or did the idea to write books happen once you became an editor of other people’s books? Did you enjoy it? Will you write more? Did being an editor prepare you in any special way?

Bridget: I’ve always wanted to write, but it took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted to write. I’m a very committed reader of novels, so for a long time I thought that if I was going to write that meant I needed to write fiction. It took me ages to figure out that neither my interest or my talent lay in that direction. And several years I’ve written a good deal of poetry (you can read it on my blog). But it took working on non-fiction books as an editor for about a decade before it occurred to me that, oh, hey, I could write non-fiction! That’s the thing with being a grown-up, right? We’re never really done figuring it out! So, yes, once I got going I loved writing this sort of book. It’s so satisfying to get to use my own natural conversational voice and tone, to get to express some of the things that have been on my mind, in some cases for many years. I am definitely hooked and want to do more! I’m chatting with my editor now about what I might do next—I’ve got a number of half-baked ideas in mind but nothing concrete yet. I think the thing about being an editor myself is that I really appreciate the editor’s art—I found it just fantastic to have editors of my own, someone to help make what I was doing the best version of what it could be. I’ve loved doing that for others and I really valued having folks do it for me.

Lisa: I am 49 years old and yet I felt liberated by reading The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. I don’t think we ever outgrow the reminders that we deserve to be loved or that we should always be ourselves. Talk about the purpose the book serves in reminding seasoned grownups that life is supposed to be fun and that you can make your own rules? Sometimes we forget these things.

Bridget: Definitely! Whereas perhaps the most obvious audience for this book is among young adults—recent college grads, people moving into their first apartments, that sort of crowd—I really wanted to make a book that ultimately would work for all of us, for grown-ups of all ages. I once had a conversation with my ninety-year-old great-aunt  about how, even though I was thirty-something at the time, on the inside I still often felt like I was about twelve years old. And she surprised me by saying, oh! Me too! That she would look in the mirror and think “who is that old woman?!” because, like everyone does sometimes, she still felt like a kid on the inside. I’m 41 now and I know I need constant reminders that other people’s snobbery is not my problem, that 95% of the time no one is looking at me, to set boundaries, to think long-term, to pay my bills on time, to go get an ice cream cone in the middle of the work day with a friend if that’s what we both want, or need, to do. There’s always more to learn. We all need reminders.

Lisa: We’ll be back next month with an interview about your other new book How Art Can Make You Happy. In the meantime, where can people find you on social media and the internet?

Bridget: My website bridgetwatsonpayne.com has info on my books, my drawings, my work as an editor, and links to my blog Pippa’s Cabinet. I’m @watsonpayne on Instagram and also @watsonpayne on Twitter.

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